Whatever Andrew J. Gillis wanted, he seemingly got. And, back in the winter of 1928, the cantankerous mayor of the city of Newburyport had his sights focused squarely on a young athletic coach from Fairhaven High School.
Delmer F. Borah had been at Fairhaven since 1926, having signed a two- year contract to succeed Edwin F. Pidgeon as coach of all athletic teams at the high school (football, basketball, baseball and track) and serve as physical education director for all boys, grades seven through 12. He signed after rejecting an offer from Newburyport, but with a newly-elected mayor leading the charge, the city’s governing powers launched a strong counterattack aimed at luring Borah away from the town that had won him over.
The 5-foot-7, 180-pound Borah was 30 years old when he left a coaching position at tiny Sanborn Seminary in Kingston, New Hampshire, to accept his new post at Fairhaven. Sanborn was a small preparatory school of less than 150 students.
As a coach, Borah’s baseball team had just come off a perfect 15-0 regular season and, in two football seasons, his boys were a combined 19-2. In the 1925-26 basketball season, Sanborn reached the semifinal round of the state championships and Borah’s track team took second place in the New Hampshire State Meet.
Meanwhile, the athletic program at Newburyport was in sharp decline.
The football teams had won a combined three games in 1925 and ‘26 and its big rivals, Cambridge Latin and Salem, were getting stronger. Having already lost once in the pursuit of Borah, rejection was no longer an option for the city of Newburyport and the mayor who carried the nickname “Bossy.”
With the 1927-28 high school basketball season entering its final days, a story appeared in the Boston Evening Globe announcing Newburyport’s re-interest in Borah. The headline — “Bossy” Offers Del Borah Job As Coach” — summed it up.
The following day, the Morning Mercury confirmed to Greater New Bedford readers that Fairhaven’s short-termed, but highly-successful coach, had been engaged by the athletic council of Newburyport High School weeks before and was offered the position to succeed the school’s present coach (Frederick Harrington) but, after stating his desired salary and conditions, Borah hadn’t heard anything since.
Nothing was official but an obvious tug-of-war was on, Newburyport pulling hard in one direction; Fairhaven digging in to hold its ground. And who could blame either side?
As a former athlete and head coach, Borah’s numbers were impeccable.
The native of Vermont gained his reputation as an athlete at Rutland High School where he lettered in football, baseball, basketball and track. Following his graduation, he entered World War I and received a hand injury while fighting in France. In 1920, Borah entered Wentworth Institute and served as coach of the baseball team while a student there. He later entered the University of New Hampshire where he was named freshman coach of the baseball team and opened some eyes when he led his team to victory over the varsity squad.
Sanborn was next and in two seasons his football and basketball teams each won back-to-back prep school championships.
Borah took the Fairhaven job knowing he was replacing a legendary coach (Pidgeon) who had flown the coupe to accept an offer from Medford High School. If it was a two-year trial test, Borah passed with flying colors.
Over those two years, Fairhaven’s football teams lost one game, tied another and won 15 straight, outscoring its opponents 404-40. No team crossed the Fairhaven goal line in the 1928 season and, in both campaigns, the Blues won a County championship. As did Borah’s track teams on their way to establishing a host of team and individual records that raised their level of interest throughout the state. In the 1927-28 basketball season, the Blues swept powerful Durfee in their home-and-home series for the first time in school history, and at the end of that school year, Borah was being hailed locally as “the best of any coach to direct athletics at the school over the river.”
On Feb. 21, 1928, the tug-of-war ended with Borah being pulled into the Newburyport camp with city officials confirming the now former Fairhaven coach had signed a two-year contract effective with the start of the 1929 school year. In addition to taking over as coach of all sports at Newburyport, Borah also would fill the role of supervisor of public playgrounds. He was given the promise the city would build a new field house to include the best of modern equipment and his annual salary was $3,200 — which was $600 more than his Fairhaven contract. Borah even got the promise of an increase “if he made good.”
Although disappointed, Fairhaven officials accepted Borah’s decision and wished him well. At the end of the 1928 school year, the boys of Fairhaven High School, through standout athlete Harold Macomber, presented their former coach and physical education director with a silver loving cup “in appreciation of his services.”
The love affair with the city of Newburyport and its high school athletic program began with the start of the 1929 school year but was in full bloom for less than two years. When Borah’s team lost seven games in the 1930 season the rumblings began. And they never subsided. He was urged to resign his coaching position a few years later as the football program continued to struggle and, by 1936, he was the bull’s eye on the target of “Bossy” Gillis who ultimately demanded Borah’s resignation as coach and director of physical education of public schools in the mayor’s effort to cut the city’s budget. The love affair and perfect marriage ended in divorce shortly after.